PHP North West 2011

This was my first PHPNW conference but after hearing so many good things about the conference in previous years I thought I'd give it a go. In this post I'll summarise some of my highlights.

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Talks (Selected)

PHP Tester's Toolbox - Sebastian Bergmann

A quick run through different testing frameworks for use with PHP, as Sebastian is the creator of PHPUnit this talk had an obvious bias but I didn't feel this overwhelmed the talk. For me who has used phpunit and simpletest for unit testing there was nothing ground breaking here but gave me an introduction to BDD and reassured me I was doing the existing bits right.

Deploying PHP Applications with Phing - Michiel Rook

Phing is one of those things I keep meaning to get around to, I've used various methods for deployment from mercurial to FTP and ant (when using html5 boilerplate) but Phing seems like a logical thing to use for PHP deployment, as with the previous talk this just provided reassurance that I'd understood it correctly and didn't really provide anything new. It also only half filled the slot which felt like a bit of a waste.

Estimation or 'How to dig your own grave' - Rowan Merewood

Without a doubt this was the most entertaining talk of the day, plagued by early technical issues Rowan breezed through it all with a casual air of confidence and a good measure of humour. The content of the talk was also pretty spot on discussing common sense ways to improve estimating how long your projects will take, much of it rang true for me and will be bearing it in mind in the future, if only my boss got to watch it he might understand that actually my estimations are not so long after all.

Are your tests really helping - Laura Beth Denker

Another entertaining talk centring on best practice when testing with anecdotes from LB's experience at Google and Etsy liberally mixed in. For me this was a talk which described a way of working to aspire to; Etsy have over 100 developers and can deploy new code up to every 20 minutes due to the efficiency of the test and deployment process. The approach LB presented was a nice common sense approach of testing what needs to be tested rather than every little thing.

Introducing Pyri the new aggregator for Pear - Jeremy Coates

The only talk I'm going to mention here that I watched from the unconference track given by the organiser of the event (or at least one of them). It described an aggregator and search engine for the PEAR PHP package system which is notoriously fragmented. The system, which is only in its early stages of development at the moment  (humorously described as Conference Driven Development), crawls submitted PEAR repos and grabs the XML data on the packages and indexes it. The data is then accessed via an API. The eventual aim is to have a one stop reference site for all PEAR packages available. Development is set to continue on the project over the coming months.

Organisation

In general the organisation of the conference seemed great pretty much everything ran smoothly and there were no real frustrations.

I'm still not sure in my mind if three tracks + an unconference track are too much, there were odd things in the unconference track I would liked to have seen but clashed with one or more things on the schedule. However I did appreciate the unconference track as it filled in a few gaps when other talks finished early. It's probably better this way than having times when there was nothing I wished to see.

Venue

The physical location for the conference was great, the Ramada Hotel in Manchester is about 10 minutes walk from the station, however the hotel itself wasn't amazing; the chairs were the most uncomfortable I've ever sat on at a conference and some of the hotel looked a bit tired.When it came to lunchtime for some (me included) the queue was unbearable and lack of space to be seated was a disappointment so I retreated to the local Pret a Manger which also allowed me to get some welcome fresh air.

Overall

All in all I had an enjoyable day and will probably return next year, however I didn't leave inspired to go home an instantly start a new exciting project to make use of something I'd learnt, more a host of useful little things to integrate into existing projects and ways to improve what I'm already doing, so still good but not mind blowing.